Monday, March 4, 2013

Maritime Monday: Coming to "Amerika"

Unnamed immigrant sailing ship from Norway Heritage website

How does a person leave the land of his birth and start a new life in a new country, especially if it means that he may never see the rest of his family again?  I've pondered this recently as I've learned more about how my Great Grandfather Peter Peterson Myren left Norway at the age of 21 to emigrate to the United States.

Various US census records recorded Peter as having come to the United States in 1870, so this provided a starting place for me.  This sent me back to the Digital Archives of Norway to examine their parish records.  In Norway at that time, the clerks and ministers of the Lutheran Church were the record keepers for virtually everything that happened to the people within their parish, including Immigration and Emigration.  

Through the records of the Digital Archives of Norway, I located an Oppland Parish Minister's Book that recorded Peter's intent to emigrate to "Amerika", recorded on March 24, 1870.(1)  The big surprise was to see the intent for his older brother John also recorded on the same day just below Peter's name.  The parish register also indicated that 16 of the 18 people listed on that page planned on emigrating to America.

I spend some hours unsuccessfully searching both the Ellis Island website as well as the Castle Garden website for information about Peter and John and their arrival in America.  My search strategy changed when I found an interesting article on the Norway Heritage website relating how "from about 1853 the tide changed, and most Norwegian emigrant ships disembarked the passengers at the Canadian port of Quebec".(2)  No wonder Peter and John had previously been nowhere to be found landing on US soil.

Using the Norway-Heritage database of Passenger Ship Lists enabled me to find that Peder Petterson Myren of Lesje had been a passenger on the ship Mercator in 1870.(3)  The database also showed his brother John listed just nine names below Peter's name.

Next stop was the Library and Archives of Canada's website.  Their database of Passenger Lists 1825-1873 provided images of the actual ship's manifest for the voyage of the Mercator, leaving Bergen April 28, 1870, and arriving in Quebec on June 30, 1870.(4)  It was interesting to see the brothers listed with different spellings of their names.

Ship's Manifest, Mercator, arrival 29 Jun 1870, Quebec

From Quebec, Peter apparently followed the path of numerous Norwegian immigrants as he joined other Norwegians in Wisconsin.  His naturalization record showed that Peter had filed his declaration of intent for US citizenship in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.(5)   According to Peter's obituary, he lived in Wisconsin until he moved in North Dakota in 1880 and secured his homestead acreage.(6)  

So what was Peter's story of coming to America?  First he registered his intent to emigrate with the parish church in Lesje, Norway then traveled with his brother John from Lesje to Bergen, Norway.  From Bergen Peter and John sailed on the Mercator to Quebec, a trip lasting two months as they traveled in steerage with over 300 others.  Once in Quebec the entire ship was quarantined for several days (due to a measles outbreak on the ship) before Peter and John could actually set foot on land.  Peter then left Quebec and traveled to Eau Claire, Wisconsin where he resided for almost ten years.  In 1880 he moved to his eventual home in Hillsboro, North Dakota, attracted probably by the lure of free land .  As for his brother John, that's another block of research and surely another story.

And through all of this I kept hearing the words of Neil Diamond's America playing through my mind, especially when I first looked at the parish register's list of names of those who wanted to come to "Amerika".  Cue the sound track and sing along.

(1) Oppland Parish (Lesjaskog Lesja, Norway). Minister Book no. 9 (1854-1889), Espress Expatriate 1870, p. 289, entry 2, 24 Mar 1870, Petter Petters Myren; digital images; Digital Archives of Norway.
(2) Solem, Borge and Trond Austheim. "Hunting Passenger Lists, Chapter 1," 1999. online images, Norway Heritage. Norway-Heritage Hands Across the Sea. : 2013.
(3) "Passenger Lists 1825-1873, Norwegian Emigrant Search." Database. Norway Heritage. Norway-Hertage Hands Across the Sea, : 2013, citing National Archives of Canada C-4525 list 63.
(4) Library and Archives of Canada. "Passenger Lists, 1865-1922." Digital images. : 2013.
(5) North Dakota. Trail County. Naturalization Records. North Dakota State University Libraries, Fargo.
(6) "Mr. Peter P. Myren ... " North Dakota Necrology, vol. 2, Aug 25, 1921 to May 29, 1923.  Microfilm. Bismark, North Dakota : State Historical Society of North Dakota. Article originally published in Hillsboro Banner (Feb. 16, 1923) : p3.

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